Stacy Antonopoulos

Aerospace Museum of California

Get your aviators on, because this month we’re touring the Aerospace Museum of California! Based in McClellan Business Park, the museum offers a great opportunity to interact with and learn about aviation history, guided by some of the most knowledgeable volunteers we have met.

We began our tour outdoors, where over thirty vintage planes and helicopters are housed; from tiny pilot trainers to a colossal cargo jet. A few of these planes are open for visitors to walk through, and you can even sit in the cockpit of one – don’t miss the photo op there! Every detail is either original or correct for the given period, such as replica missiles fitted to the combat planes. Each aircraft is rich with history – if you ask one of the nearby volunteers, you are guaranteed to hear a fascinating story! Many of the planes (and volunteers) have served the military, seen combat, and have been instrumental in the protection of the rights and liberties that we love. Some of our favorites included the Jolly Green Giant, a search and rescue helicopter which took a bullet during Vietnam; the FedEx cargo jet retired due to fuel inefficiency; and the amphibious Albatross, used by the Coast Guard on a number of missions. Also notable is the F-14 Tomcat, the exact type of plane used to film the classic, “Top Gun”. Each aircraft’s story is shared on the museum’s website, but if you speak with one of the many volunteers, they will likely have a personal experience to share.

When you move inside, you will find more of the museum’s interactive exhibits. There are several informational films playing, each fitted with a row of airplane seating. This is also where you will find memorabilia and artifacts related to interstellar travel, including three different space suits. There is a collection of vintage engines, some of which I am told are very rare. The kids loved the Fun With Physics stations, a series of puzzles and activities which engage all of the senses in the name of science. The kids can also get a mini replica plane or into the cockpit of an Air Force Jet. For an additional fee, you can go on the movie ride theater – much cheaper than Universal Studios! Upstairs, there is a play area for the youngest future pilots and classroom area for the more inquisitive. We were able to sneak a peek at the flight simulators used for training camps, and with the help of the volunteers, landed a plane and shot a few missiles. Don’t miss the Coast Guard art exhibit before heading back downstairs or the many small aircrafts suspended from the ceiling.

Have I mentioned the volunteers? I have visited this museum three times, and each time I have learned so much about mechanics and history. The people we spoke with were all retired military personnel and most had spent many years as pilots. They each shared firsthand knowledge and personal anecdotes, breathing life into the machines while assuring me that we were not trying their patience. While the museum has a lot to entertain on its own, the volunteers make the visit truly memorable. The Aerospace Museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays. Summer hours are 10:00am – 5:00pm. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and youth ages 13-17, $5 for children aged 6-12, and free for those 5 and under. It is located at 3200 Freedom Park Drive.

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